Monday 23 June 2008 

Australia And West Indies To Renew Old Rivalry

The West Indies play host to world champions Australia in an eagerly awaited five-match One Day International series. Australia will be keen to reassert themselves on the world stage, after being humbled two nil by India in the Commonwealth Bank series final, and while the West Indies have been off the pace for the best part of the last decade, they have shown signs in recent times that they are turning the corner and the men from the Caribbean have produced some inspired performances against Australia over the years, particularly in One Day cricket.

On the eve of the first One Day International in St. Vincent we look back at some of the best ODIs between the West Indies and Australia in recent times.

In 1996 Australia lived up to their billing as World Cup favourites by reaching the semi-finals relatively comfortably, while the West Indies recovered from an embarrassing loss against Kenya, to defeat Australia in the group stage of the tournament and set up a mouth-watering semi-final clash against the same opposition

Australia won the toss but were quickly reduced to fifteen for four as the West Indies assumed command of the contest. However, a partnership of 138 between Stuart Law (72) and Michael Bevan (69) along with some big hitting by Ian Healy (38) saw Australia to a respectable 207 for eight from their allotted 50 overs.

Despite Australia’s determined effort in posting a score of over 200, which had not seemed likely, many experts still felt that their score was below par and that the West Indies were the favourites to reach the final at the half way stage.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul made a gutsy 80, and his partnership of 68 with Brian Lara (45) appeared to put the West Indies on the brink of victory as they reached 165 for two with a minimum of fuss. However, Shane Warne produced a stunning spell of bowling claiming four for 36 to spark a West Indian collapse and Richie Richardson’s men were bowled out for 202 as the Australians emerged victorious by just five runs, but they would go on to lose the final to Sri Lanka.

A decade later the two sides locked horns again, in the opening group game of the Champions trophy. The West Indies won the toss and elected to bat first, but were reduced to 63 for four after 15 overs and appeared to be struggling to post a competitive total. It took a stand of 137 between Runako Morton (90 not out) and skipper Brian Lara (71) to enable the West Indies to post a score of 234 for six.

To defend such a total against the world champions the West Indies were always going to need early breakthroughs and these were provided by Ian Bradshaw and Jerome Taylor and the Australians were reduced to 17 for two. However Adam Gilchrist (92) played an uncharacteristically patient innings, as the situation demanded, appearing to be putting the Australians back in command.

Gilchrist and Michael Clarke continued the repair job as the Australians seemed set to begin their campaign with a victory. The usually cool Chris Gayle was clearly agitated by something Clarke had said to him earlier, and this all added a spark to the occasion.

Just as it appeared the Australians were on course for victory, Jerome Taylor returned and completed a hat-trick, to complete a final twist in the game and seal a famous West Indian victory by ten runs.

The two sides would meet again in the final as Australia got their revenge and claimed their first Champions Trophy title.

When the two teams line up on Tuesday, Australian captain Ricky Ponting will be the only player from either team to have played in both of those featured games. While he hasn’t been in the best of form recently in the One Day form of the game, Ponting is very much a big match player - his superb 140 not out in the 2003 World Cup Final against India shows this and he is likely to have a huge impact in this series both with the bat and in terms of his decision making.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who featured prominently in the 1996 world cup semi final, will also be in action - Chanderpaul has taken over the mantle from Brian Lara of being the West Indies premier batsman, more than his run scoring ability (he averaged over 100 in all forms of cricket on the West Indies last tour of England) his greatest ability is his mental strength and versatility. When ten runs were required for victory from the last two balls of the first ODI against Sri Lanka this year, Chanderpaul duly hit a four and a six, to seal a one-wicket victory for the West Indies.

Australia will start this series as favourites and it certainly is a tag that they deserve and have earned as their success over the last 15 years will testify. However the West Indies at home have always been a useful outfit and there really is a feeling around the cricketing world that West Indian cricket is on an upward curve. One only has to look at how a young West Indies team minus Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Chris Gayle defeated Australia by seven wickets in their Twenty20 encounter (it admittedly was reduced to 11 overs aside due to the inclement weather).

With Gayle back at the helm and youngsters like Xavier Marshall consistently turning in good performances there is every chance that this five match series could go down to the wire.

Aaron Kumar
© Cricket World 2008